‘Anne of Green Gables’ and Harry Potter

Where have I been over the holidays? Mostly on Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables. I’m working on a new book, tentatively titled Bella Swan’s Bookshelf (creative, I know) about the literary influences playing on the Twilight series and that requires a lot of reading time with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s green and grey-eyed red-head.

We’ve discussed the possible influence of Anne on the Hogwarts Saga before (see Anne Shirley vs. Harry Potter from the archives of the Anne Lexicon site and my response here if you missed that). I want to re-visit the topic for three reasons:

In order of least to most important:

(1) I have been corresponding this past week with an Anne expert who will go unnamed until she chooses to join this conversation. S/he assures me that Ms. Rowling herself has confirmed that she is an Anne fan and that Lucy Maud Montgomery (hereafter ‘LMM’) was an influence. A quick search at Accio-quotes does not bring up anything more than an aside about Anne but the sources my expert-friend noted seem more than credible. The critical Anne community in Canada accepts the Anne-Harry link as a given.

(2) Reading LMM biographical pieces, it’s hard to miss the Rowling-Montgomery parallels: successful author of Bildungsroman-orphan novels, with something of a Cinderella story, whose work was neglected (despised?) by critics, an unhappy marriage, wish-fulfillment qualities in the writing, and a life struggling with depression. Ms. Rowling got the help and medication she needed to deal with this last; LMM, tragically, did not, through the ‘failing’ of being born too soon, alas.

(3) If you read the Anne novels, I think you have to be struck by the number of Tennyson, Browning, and Wordsworth allusions and quotations. As striking are the near constant descriptions, “florid” literally and figuratively, of the natural beauty of PEI and Avonlea. My Anne expert and correspondent confirms that LMM, like Anne Shirley, was a close reader of the Victorian Romantics and John Ruskin.

So what?

I think it is more than plausible that these books are as popular as they are today — and there is an international Anne fandom, especially in Japan — because of their allegorical and anagogical meanings. The anagogical meaning is in the scaffolding of beauty, the succession of natural landscape paintings LMM draws for the reader, the character of which mind-pictures work subliminally (as do our real world surroundings, eh?) to transform our interior landscape in edifying fashion.

That’s quite the jump from this sort of Modern Painters anagogical artistry to Rowling’s literary alchemy — just as there is a considerable chasm separating the prose heights and comic touches of both writers — but I don’t think that it is here that we see the influence of Anne on Harry. That is in the allegorical meaning they share.

Harry, as I have explained in The Deathly Hallows Lectures, is the allegorical ‘heart’ or ‘spirit,’ as a stand-alone character and subject of the alchemical purification and theosis of the series as well as a member of the series’ soul triptych, body-mind-spirit, Ron-Hermione-Harry. Potter-mania is largely a consequence of reader engagement with Harry and experiencing his spiritual chrysalis imaginatively.

Any reader of LMM’s Anne novels knows that Anne begs her adopted family to call her “Cordelia” at their first meeting, and, unlike the several names she calls herself in the first book (to include a Coleridge Christabel reference in ‘Geraldine’), this name is recalled several times in the follow-on books. Diane Barry, for example, names her first daughter “Little Anne Cordelia” to honor her best friend to the mystification of her family.

Why is “Cordelia” an important marker? I think there is a reason more obvious and more meaningful than the tragic King Lear echoes, which are something of a stretch for the later Anne Shirley to make (or for the child Anne to know!) even given Cordelia’s virtues or the original Welsh meaning (“jewel of the sea”), both of which possibilities are cited in The Annotated Anne of Green Gables as the most likely connections. “Cordelia” is from the Latin for “warm-hearted” and this is the core, if you will, of the Anne books’ allegorical meaning: Anne Shirley is the “heart,” very much as Harry Potter is.

Three quick points in this regard:

(1) In Coleridgean anthropology, the Primary Imagination is the uncreated Logos in the human person and the Secondary Imagination is the same faculty engaged in art. (See Chapter five of The Deathly Hallows Lectures for more on this.) This noetic quality is the “heart” of Christian scripture and Patristic writing, whence Coleridge’s natural theology, and of imaginative literature, especially poetry and fantasy post-Coleridge. Anne Shirley is a creature of “imagination” whose vision recreates PEI and its rather mundane existence into an endless series of visions bordering on the supernatural, which seems to infuse her world. Her life-long hope is only for a “greater scope of imagination.”

(2) There is a brotherhood of people in the Anne books, her “kindred spirits” and the “house of Joseph” from Anne’s House of Dreams, who recognize each other, usually by the light shining in their eyes and their distinctively sacramental or un-empirical way of seeing things. They are as distinct from the non-kindred and as “magical” a group as Witches and Wizards in Rowling’s sub-creation are from her Muggles. This quality of light in the eyes is another pointer to Coleridgean and Romantic cardiac intelligence and logos (cf., John 1:9). Anne Shirley’s enlightened crew are another Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

(3) There is a borderline disdain for religious conformity in the Anne books, which, while never crossing over into impiety or heresy, is nonetheless always a note contrary to hollow devotion or hypocritical faith-without-living-works. The real faith of the books isn’t the Methodism or Presbyterianism LMM gently mocks as being little better than Grips or Tory political parties in their partisan differences but the vibrant faith evident in Anne’s love and her imagination. This is the logos-Christ within her heart that shines through her and transforms her world. The references to books like Drummond’s Natural Law in the Supernatural World and LMM’s constant stream of Romantic poet and scripture citations as well as the story transformations centering on hearts opening highlight this meaning repeatedly.

Anne of Green Gables and the follow-on books, then, like Harry Potter, are carrying a boatload of meaning, allegorical and anagogical, via the Romantic tradition’s understanding of imagination as the spiritual heart of the human person. I offer for your consideration the thesis which I think obvious, namely, that it is just these levels of meaning and artistry which account for the longevity of fascination with and the power and universal appeal of LMM’s Anne Shirley adventures.

Your comments and corrections are coveted as always.


  1. This is fascinating. I’ve loved the “Anne” books for many years.

    However, Emily Byrd Starr is also Montgomery heroine who seems to exemplify the points you have made here. I mention her because (in some ways) she has an even stronger imagination (and awareness of the supernatural) than Anne does (although I realize I may be comparing apples and oranges). Even Emily’s full name (her first name could mean “rival”, “laborious”, “eager”) suggests that she is yearning for transcendence through her imagination. Her struggle is exemplified through her trials of becoming an author.

  2. I recently read Anne of Green Gables to my children and enjoyed Anne’s personal transformation. It is a long time since I read the books for my own pleasure.

    I wondered as I read the book about the very green-ness of it all. The descriptions emphasise the natural aspects of PEI, in a way that has echoes in Twilight where the rain forest is a place to be transformed or obtain revelation. (This also reminds me of The Secret Garden, which takes this idea of nature as the source of restoration and perfection to it’s height.

    In Anne, the alchemical quarreling couple are obvious (Anne and Gilbert,) but I am wondering if you can comment on the significance of Anne’s needing to cut her hair in the first book, John. It seems to me that this is a critical moment of humility that turns the tide in the book.

  3. Interesting.

    But, small correction: It’s the “Race that Knows Joseph”. Miss Cornelia & Capt Jim use it in Anne’s House of Dreams. They explain it as someone with the same views & sense of humor.

  4. It’s also “the house of Joseph.” See the beginning of Chapter 24.

  5. I am a huge Anne fan and never really made the connection between Anne and Harry before. I will have to go back to your earlier posts. Thank you for pointing this out- I will have to mull things over a bit…

  6. Hi John, thanks for pointing me towards this discussion even though I am almost a year late =D I’ve only read the first 4 books of the HP series, but am now planning to finish the remaining ones.

    There are similarities between Anne and Harry — both are orphans, both had unhappy childhoods, both had “horrible” adoptive families. But they are also significantly different because Harry is special because he is The Boy Who Lived and a destiny was thrust upon him. He only began to have hope when he discovered his powers and Hogwarts.

    Anne, on the other hand, is special because of her very nature — which you call the “heart.” Despite being in a miserable environment, she was able to create a better world for herself though her imagination. I didn’t get this from Harry. I felt that he was somehow resigned to his miserable life — only when he learned of a different part of himself did he have the courage to make choices.

    I wrote a few thoughts about Anne and her “orphanhood” http://theanneshirleyproject.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/anne-shirley-and-orphans-in-fiction/

  7. Red Hair Anne says

    The only connection I have can mention is the translator of Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter is the same man in china.The translator call AiNong Ma who is the one of few dedicated worker there.

  8. Slightly unrelated to your post, but I wanted to say how impressed I’ve always been with how LMM develops her diction, voice, and language as Anne grows and progresses through the series. Fascinating.

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